Staying hydrated

It’s not as easy as you think, especially when you’re on a long trip and a water source you were relying on turns up dry. Don’t panic, with a little thought and consideration you can still make it out without having to drink your own pee.

Bring the right amount of water:

So often people underestimate how much water they will need. On a short hike, about 3 hours, a solid liter should do you justice. This should be doubled if you are on a trail that you are unfamiliar with. If you get lost, you’ll need it. It happens. Don’t overestimate yourself.

If you are doing a day hike (hiking most of the day), no less than 2 liters of water. This is minimum. It’s always nice to have a surplus of water to sip on while you’re trekking, even if you know the trails well. Long trips require you to stay extra hydrated to avoid cramps, dizziness and other dehydration related sicknesses.

Overnight? 3 liters. Yes, that’s a lot of weight, but it can save your life. You can cut this limit down if you are familiar with the area and there is a reliable water source near camp. Otherwise, even if you’ve hiked the trail a few times, I recommend 3 liters of water.

Conserve: If you are doing a long trek, easy on the water for the first few miles. While staying hydrated is important, if you are chugging water from the get go, most of it will probably be wasted by your body. Your body will not conserve water when it determines it doesn’t need to (getting a constant input). Keep that in mind and allow your body a chance to start holding back, just don’t dehydrate yourself trying.

Avoid the sun:

Walking in shades areas is a great way to reduce water loss. Your body will lose a great deal through transpiration (sweat), and you can alleviate this by sticking to the shadows. Avoid hiking in the heat of the day, especially if you are running low on water. If you are out of water, stay put in a cool area until the sun goes down. Many hikers deaths come from walking in exposed sun while looking for water. It’s better to wait out the heat and walk at night if you’re in danger of dessication.

Shut your mouth: You heard me! While trekking hard and long is fun, panting and breathing through your mouth is actually drying you out. You’ll lose an immense amount of water when panting, so keep the pace down and breath through your nose. This will not only stop transpiration from your mouth, but will also reduce sweating as you tend to better pace yourself when breathing through your nose.

Don’t over rely on water sources:

Things chance, water sources such as rivers, creeks, and even lakes can dry up, especially with the changing of seasons. Research your area of travel well and pinpoint reliable water sources. Even after a hard rain, you may find that creeks and rivers can be bone dry.

Bring a good map:

Your map doesn’t list water sources? It’s not a good map. Ditch it or make some notes of your own. Good maps often list creeks, rivers, lakes, and other sources of water.

Find water:

If you are in desperate need of water, you may be able to find some. Digging in dried up creek beds can render water, but usually several feet (as much as 6) down.

Water near a green patch of grass

An oddly healthy patch of trees or foliage? Check for holes and places you can dig around the roots for water.

Use a bandana or other cotton to soak up water in thin pools and ring it out in your mouth.

In the mornings, dew may be abundant. Wrap cotton around your legs and wade through the grass. This will collect water and allow you to wring that out as well.

A trickled down a rock? Use a shoe lace to to absorb the water. Stick the lace in vertically and allow it to run down through the lace and it will drip from the bottom or become moist enough to sip from.

Watch animals. They know where water is, and if they are alive it’s probably close. Watch where they go, or where they are abundant. Insects stay near water, and birds often circle watering holes. See converging tracks? There may be a source of water near by.

Check rock formations. Rocks can often house water long after rain storms as it won’t absorb in.

Check low areas and valleys. Water naturally drains down hill, so that will be your target.

Melt down snow, don’t eat it. Eating it will actually make you thirstier, as it takes water to keep your body temperature up afterwards.

Sandy areas rarely accumulate water, it just runs right through. Keep looking.

Always carry a water purification method.

Tablets work well in clear water, but can take hours to kill off everything. Also, an aftertaste may exist afterwards. Never leave home without the. Light, and cheap.

Filters are great, as they can be used in dirty water, just make sure it is actually made for the situation. Common filters may not even filter bacteria.

A few drops of bleach can work in a pinch. Add to a liter of gallon and wait.

UV lights, they work, but only in clear water, and they won’t filter or metals or dirt. The convenience is nice, but pack extra batteries.


5 thoughts on “Staying hydrated

  1. I read an ANAM once where some climbers looked over their burden for the trip and figured it looked like enough water, they didn’t actually stop and do the math. They rappelled into a canyon, ran out of water while climbing, and wound up too exhausted from dehydration to get back out. They had to be rescued.

    Personally, I use a Steripen UV purifier. Water is generally abundant in the PNW (although my last camp was very very dry) and it’s usually clear and pretty pure to begin with. But you’re right, you need good info before you set out on the trail. No one method is strictly better than the others, but some are better suited for some areas…

    This surprised me, but my buddy and I had a race to see who could purify a liter fastest. He was able to filter two liters in the time it took me to purify one with my Steripen, using a new pump.

    1. I’m a fan of the UV filters myself. My only concern is the device malfunctioning. I’ve never heard of it happening, but it’s always a possibility. Do you carry tablets as a backup?
      Recently I had the chance to test the Platypus gravity filter system, and I was quite impressed. It did a fine job of producing a lot of water (4 liters a shot), and the water tasted fantastic.
      I personally really like pumps, but, they’re just too heavy. If they work on the weights I think they would be a better option. Right now, I can’t really determine a favorite.

      1. I lost my Steripen recently, and had to buy a new one. The battery died Saturday night, leaving me with a questionable liter in my nalgeen bottle, seven miles from the end of the dirt road. This was my second camping trip with the purifier. 😦

        Fortunately, a camping stove is a backup purifier. It takes a lot longer, even several hours if you hate drinking warm water. But in many places it’s better than taking your chances.

  2. Ah, That’s very true. I guess you could purify about anything with enough fuel. That’s my fear with the UV methods. Batteries are really holding back a lot of technologies. They’re rechargeable right?

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